The California exchange managers keep moving forward.

The California Health Benefit Exchange has made a preliminary decision to pick a unit of First Data Corp., Atlanta, to handle a key exchange contract.

First Data will be responsible for project management and support services for the California Healthcare Eligibility, Enrollment and Retention System (CalHEERS), according to exchange officials.

Officials announced their intent to award the contract to First Data May 11.

First Data said in its bid package that it could manage the exchange enrollment system project for $9.3 million.

The exchange is a state agency that is working to set up a health insurance exchange, or Web-based insurance supermarket, by 2014.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) calls for states to set up exchanges for their residents, especially to help individuals and small groups use new tax credit systems to buy coverage.

A California company — Word & Brown, Orange, Calif. — helped popularize the health insurance exchange concept by developing a large private health insurance exchange program.

The California exchange received 9 bids for the exchange enrollment system project management contract.

Evaluators determined that two bid applications were incomplete and excluded them from the selection process.

The cost estimates provided by the remaining seven bidders ranged from about $8 million about $9.4 million.

First Data came in near the top of the cost rankings in terms of raw cost estimate figures, but evaluators awarded First Data a staff qualification score of 180. The bidder that came in second had a staff qualification rating of just 123.